THE EXPLOSION OF LOVE!!! was nearing its finale. Paul Runyon lay face down in a bed of thumbtacks, his back a bloody pincushion. Buddy Frazier Jr. slumped in a corner of the ring with a coil of barbed wire tangled around his head. Blood tinted his bleached-blond hair the same shade of pink as his trunks. The only one not outwardly broken was Babe, who stood ringside and looked on in horror. Buddy was the first one to stagger to his feet. He untangled himself from the barbed wire and began setting up a folding banquet table in the middle of the ring. Babe pleaded “no” when Buddy scooped up the lifeless Paul Runyon and dumped him on the table.
Paul tapped the television screen. It sounded like the cicadas flying into the windows. “I never remember this part,” he said. “I was legit knocked out.”
And the thing of it was, Buddy never remembered this moment or the moments to follow either. He’d watched the match hundreds, if not thousands of times, had memorized each frame, especially the finish, yet he had no recollection of participating. It was as if each viewing further removed Buddy from the real thing. He spent countless hours watching that match, searching for the moment, the frame, the shot when it all slipped away from him.
Zampillo checked his watch. There were only a few minutes before they were to carry Babe down the street to St. Al’s, and El Gaucho had requested some time to say a few words before they did. The undertaker pointed apologetically to the television. Buddy saluted him and lowered the volume to a whisper as the few mourners gathered around Babe’s casket.
Monsignor Kinski offered up some prayers for the departed, and then the great luchador spoke. “She was no ringrat. She was a classy lady.” El Gaucho dropped his masked head. “Sometimes a hard lady.”
Paul concurred with a somber “Woo yeah.”
“Sometimes?” Buddy whispered a little too loudly to Paul.
“But this is a shoot,” said El Gaucho. “Even though Babe was a hard lady to love, I did love her. And so did Paul and Buddy and lots of others. I won’t speak for those guys, but I was never sure if she loved me back. But that’s ok. She was a pretty lady. On the outside. And more importantly, she was good at her job. Made everyone in the audience feel something. Whether they burned for her with lust or boiled over with hate, face or heel, when she put on that blue dress and walked to the ring she was everybody’s Mrs. Fahrenheit.” El Gaucho paused, pumped a fist over his heart, then pointed to Buddy and Paul. “You boys know what I’m talking about.”
Buddy Frazier Jr. turned from El Gaucho, from Paul, from Babe. He returned to the fateful match and began shadowboxing the television, throwing imaginary haymakers at himself. He touched a finger to Babe. “I shouldda seen this coming, girl.”
The EXPLOSION OF LOVE!!! reached its crescendo. With Paul Runyon on the table, incapacitated, resting almost peacefully, Buddy Frazier Jr. climbed the ropes and sized up his former best friend for a Texas-sized leg drop that would crash Paul Runyon through the table, secure a victory, and win the hand of Babe. But now Babe was in the ring. Finally taking a side, coming to Paul Runyon’s aid. She climbed on the table. Stood over Paul to shield him from Buddy. Pleaded with Buddy not to finish Paul.
And Buddy Frazier Jr. leapt.
A single second, long as a freight train, snaked by. Droplets of Paul’s blood dripped off the table and spattered on the mat. Babe the Blue Fox raised her hands to soften the impending blow. Her fingernails were painted the same color as her dress. The crowd roared. Flash photography strobed like chain lightning as a black streak flew into the ring. It was El Gaucho jumping higher than any man possibly could. Not only jumping the ropes, but leapfrogging Buddy and Paul in the pecking order.
El Gaucho cleared the third rope easily and soared even higher to clothesline Buddy in mid-air, to save Babe the Blue Fox, to resign Paul and Buddy to heartbreak and obscurity.
And now Buddy Frazier Jr. looked upon Babe’s casket and began to “Energize” just as he’d done years ago in the ring when he’d make a comeback. Wagged a finger at El Gaucho. “This is not the thing! You may be champion in the ring, but you weren’t never the champion of that dirty old gal’s heart. Don’t you stand up there and talk about class. She put one over on you and me. Especially Paul. It weren’t right. I never got to tell her that.”
Buddy smacked his hand on Babe’s casket as he spoke. Paul put a hand on Buddy’s shoulder. “Go easy, big man. This is not the time.”
Buddy knocked Paul’s arm down. “Not the time? Not the time? This is not the thing! That little gal done wrong. She done you wrong, Paul. Done me wrong. Done Gaucho Wrong. By turn we done each other wrong.”
“Get your mouth shut, Buddy. Show respect,” said El Gaucho.
“Be cool, man” said Paul.
“Cool? It’s a furnace of hellfire in this damn city,” Buddy said. “Do not attempt to regulate my temperature! Either one of you.” And he kicked over the television. The last image it showed was Paul Runyon unconscious on the table, Buddy Frazier Jr. knocked out cold on the mat, and El Gaucho pointing to the sky and carrying off Babe on his shoulder.
There were gasps and cries. Zampillo, the Monsignor, and the few mourners moved away from Babe’s casket. The undertaker called for calm. Monsignor Kinski appealed to a higher power.
Paul tried to subdue Buddy once more, but Buddy kicked out Paul’s bad leg and Paul Runyon went down. El Gaucho charged Buddy then stopped when Buddy picked up one end of the casket, where Babe’s feet, those delicate and precious treasures would have been resting, those little toenails surely painted the same color blue as her dress. “No, by God! It is not the thing. I ain’t sending out her like this. No honesty! No honor! None of us.”
Buddy lifted the casket higher and this time he felt her weight shift like sandbags in the bed of a pickup.
“Damn that little gal. Damn you Paul for breaking that leg in the first place. Damn these bugs. Damn it all.” And now Buddy Frazier Jr. jerked the casket over his head and took all the weight on his shoulders like he was going to deliver an airplane spin. With all of Babe the Blue Fox’s weight bearing down on him, he staggered to the doors, screaming, cursing, damning her, damning himself. He rammed his way through the doors. Leaned into the onslaught of cicadas, bore them like a man walking headlong into a hailstorm. The rumbling hum of one hundred thousand cicada mating shrieks drown out his ranting and cursing and all the pain it entailed. He staggered to the river and with all of his might launched Babe the Blue Fox skyward, higher than any trebuchet could, over the dead-brown current, spiriting her away into those placid blue waters of memory.